If defense wins championships, then the 49ers will win the Super Bowl Sunday.
The Niners ranked No. 2 in the NFL this season in total defense. Led by a dominating front that includes five first-round draft choices – Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas – San Francisco gave up just 281.8 yards per game.
The 49ers' opponent Sunday in Super Bowl LIV in Miami, the Kansas City Chiefs, ranked 17th in the league, giving up 349.6 yards per game.
The 49ers also ranked No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense, an indication that the terrific passing offense led by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes may finally meet its match.
Plus, there’s this: Kansas City’s rushing defense isn’t good. The Chiefs ranked 26th in the NFL this season against the run, allowing 128.2 yards per game and a whopping 4.9 yards per carry. That’s not a good sign against San Francisco, the league’s No. 2 rushing attack. That means the 49ers could control the clock and keep the ball out of Mahomes’ hands for long stretches.
While Mahomes may be the NFL’s most dynamic quarterback, the 49ers go in as the more dominant defense. Historically, the edge has gone to the more dominating defensive team. Last year, for instance, the Patriots shut down the Rams in the Super Bowl – allowing just three points -- after Los Angeles had been the league’s No. 1 offense.
The analytic website Pro Football Focus, too, noted this week that the 49ers pass defense is the best in the league at shutting down deep-ball passing attacks. With a fierce rush and a great cornerback in Richard Sherman, opposing QBs don’t get the time or opportunity to throw deep often. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus reports the 49ers gave up just 10 completions of 20 or more yards this season, by far the best total, ahead of the Steelers and Seahawks who were tied for second with 16.
Of course, the 49ers didn’t face Mahomes this year, and Mahomes is special. He can avoid pass rushes to buy time and throws on the run as well or better than any other quarterback in the NFL. With a trio of extremely fast wide receivers, led by Tyreek Hill, that could mean some long patterns and opportunities for the Chiefs.
Still, cracking the 49ers defense may be a tough task for Kansas City.
This week, when one reporter ran a simulation of the Super Bowl matchup through the Madden video game, it produced a 20-7 victory for the 49ers, with San Francisco intercepting Mahomes three times.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said the 49ers have the edge.
"People talk about the Niners defense and that pass rush," Prescott said on the NFL Network. "As a quarterback, we know, if you can get home with those front four you got a chance. So, defense wins championships, right? So I’m going to go with (San Francisco). Defense wins championships."
Oddsmakers, however, have made the Chiefs 1-point favorites. Sunday’s kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. (Bay Area time).